By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2012 – The senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lauded service members and provided his impressions of the enemy they face in remarks yesterday at the American Legion’s national convention in Indianapolis.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly credited the fearless dedication of Americans who have served in overcoming struggles ranging from British oppression, communism, and Nazi rule to the “high tide” of Islamic intolerance and extremism.
“Service members have come to understand the simple fact that America’s strength was and should be again a people stitched together by a shared sense of history, values, customs, hopes and dreams that unite us, … [and] that there is great power in us as individuals, but even greater power in individuals who voluntarily work together and support each other,” Kelly said.
Despite the belief of some that the United States has produced a generation of materialistic, self-absorbed young people, Kelly said, Americans can “watch in wonderment those who serve or have served, asking not what their country can do for them, but always, and with their lives, what they can do for America.”
The general also emphasized the formidability of modern-day threats, acknowledging more than 6,000 military members killed in action since overseas contingency operations began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against America.
“We didn’t start this fight,” he said. “It came to us motivated by a visceral loathing of everything we are. Our enemy is savage, offers absolutely no quarter, [and] has a single focus: that is [to] kill every one of us here at home or enslave us with extremism that serves no God and no purpose that any decent man or woman could ever understand.”
Kelly said military members’ families are the small portion of American society that each day awaits the dreaded visit from officials who would tell them their loved one in uniform will not come home. He also said he can attest to the selflessness of service members who have endured and continue to endure the hardships of war.
“I’ve seen them literally turn the intangibles of commitment, bravery and selfless devotion into real and meaningful action,” Kelly said. “In my three tours in this war, I never saw one hesitate or do anything other than lean into the fire and, with no apparent fear of death or injury, take the fight to those who would do you harm.”
Kelly recounted battlefield fear that is at times all-consuming, with uniformed people expressing levels of courage even their families may not realize they have.
“When no one would call them ‘coward’ for cowering behind a wall or shivering in panic in a bunker, slave to the most basic of all instincts — survival — none of them do,” Kelly said. “When the calls for the corpsman or medic are shouted from the mouths of young kids who know they will soon be with their God, when seconds seem like hours and it all becomes slow motion and fast-forward at the same time … and the only sensible act is to stop, get down, save yourself, they never did.”
Kelly said he prays that the nation the fallen have loved and protected is forever worthy of their sacrifice.
“We are America, and we must prevail, because we remain mankind’s best hope for the future,” he said.
President Barack Obama has nominated Kelly to receive his fourth star and serve as commander of U.S. Southern Command.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly